International Women’s Day: GovTechies talk about switching to tech careers
International Women’s Day falls on March 8 annually, and this year’s theme is #EmbraceEquity – a subject that is close to our hearts as not all GovTechies come from a tech background, but all of us are given equal opportunities to carve out a meaningful tech career.
We speak to two female GovTechies – Lin Zi and Victoria Neoh – about how they made their career switches, what life is like in the tech industry, and tips for those who are seeking change themselves.
Hi Lin Zi and Victoria, thanks for taking the time to speak to us! Can you start by telling us what you do at GovTech?
Lin Zi: Hi! I’m a data scientist with GovTech’s Data Science and Artificial Intelligence Division, or DSAID, working on consultancy projects with different government agencies. My work typically starts with scoping a business problem, spanning the typical analysis phases, and ends with presenting insights and recommendations to address the business problem. Sometimes, the end result could also be a data product that the client agency can use for operations or service delivery.
Victoria: Hello, I’m also from DSAID like Lin Zi but I’m a User Experience (UX) Designer focusing on Artificial Intelligence Platforms built for agencies. Product teams that I’m on at the moment include Transcribe (a speech-to-text tool) and GovText (a natural language processing data analysis tool).
We heard you’re both career switchers. What were you doing before entering the tech industry?
Victoria: I began my career as a counsellor in the Singapore Prison Service, conducting pre-release assessments for inmates as well as psychological interventions to help ex-offenders reintegrate into society.
I was later attached to the Programme Design and Evaluation Branch, which develops and evaluates in-care and after-care psychology-based rehabilitation programmes for offenders. This sparked my interest in user-centric work and I enrolled in a User Experience design course, enabling me to start my UX career in the Digital Church Office of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore. I was highly involved in building products to bring about digital transformation in the Catholic Archdiocese here. After a year, I got the opportunity to join GovTech.
Lin Zi: I started my career in the Home Team uniformed services as well! As a senior officer with the Singapore Police Force for six years, I investigated crimes, patrolled the streets, and did staff work at the police headquarters.
Those are fields that one wouldn’t usually associate with tech! What spurred you to make the switch?
Lin Zi While attached to the Police Headquarters, I started doing techy things to make my life easierincrease efficiency. Things like automating manual processes and working on data updates myself instead of waiting for someone else to do the job, until I got to the point where I realised I could make my hobby my career instead. As a child, I was fascinated by the endless possibilities in stories and worldbuilding. Being a data scientist allows me to combine my childhood ambition of becoming a writer with my hobby!
Victoria: What attracted me to UX was creating something useful for end users. In fact, UX was first introduced to me while I was studying Psychology in NUS and I really loved how it was highly related to cognitive psychology as it delved deep into how a person would think about, and therefore use an object or an app.
When I was doing evaluation of the psychological correctional programmes rolled out to inmates, the idea of UX came to mind again. I pondered over how much the programmes we created were tailored to the needs of the inmates receiving these programmes, how this shaped their journey in the prison, and whether it adequately prepared them for their release. So I would say that the interest was first in user-centric work – UX design and tech just came along naturally with it.
And what steps did you take to prepare for a role in tech and position yourselves as suitable candidates?
Victoria: The most important factors were that I shared a similar vision with the hiring teams and I had experience working with people and understanding them. These were attributes that the hiring teams were looking for.
Lin Zi: I took online courses to brush up my skills, while still in the police force. This was necessary because while I studied statistics in school, that was nearly six years ago at that point and my knowledge was rusty.
I also did some analytics for my team, which was really insightful. A significant aspect of data science lies in understanding the real business problem faced by stakeholders, before data science can be applied to develop a solution. So this gave me practice in playing the dual roles of a business stakeholder and a data scientist.
Do you remember how you felt when you first started working in the tech industry?
Victoria: I had always assumed tech was a very complicated industry that an average person like myself wouldn’t be able to understand. This was probably because my husband is a software developer and whenever he talked about his work, I found it hard to comprehend what he actually did.
And indeed, it was a bit daunting at first when I entered the tech world proper, but also very exciting because of the endless possibilities I could explore. This was especially so as I had a lot of freedom to dream big in my role at the Roman Catholic Archdiocese, to think of how we could collaboratively build a product to support the larger mission.
Lin Zi: Yes, I remember feeling excited and apprehensive too. The opportunities seemed vast, and everyone else already seemed to know so much more. On the other hand, after six years in a regimental, uniformed organisation, it was hurrah for casual dress code! Although no uniform = no name tags = having to remember everyone’s names from the get-go… haha!
Of all the opportunities in the tech field, why did you choose GovTech?
Lin Zi: I’ve been in public service my entire career. The idea of using tech to serve public good resonates strongly with me.
Victoria: I was drawn to GovTech’s mission to use tech to improve the lives of people in the community. At that point in time, I knew I’m not exactly the sort of person who would want to work for a revenue-driven organisation and would much rather be doing work that had more meaning beyond chasing profits.
Many of our readers are curious about what it’s like working in GovTech. Can you share more about life as a GovTechie?
Victoria: My bosses and colleagues are all very open-minded and excited to try out new ideas, or at least enter into thought experiments.
I work mostly with the product managers and front-end engineers in my product teams and I really enjoy the collaborative process that we engage in. They check -in with me regularly and provide a sounding board for me to bounce ideas off them.
Lin Zi: My experience has also been that the culture is great, and we get opportunities to work with other government agencies on a wide range of interesting problems that call for different solutions. We are not pigeonholed into specific business or tech domains.
Within the same project, we work together to ensure we meet our deliverables; across projects, we share and discuss common learning points so that we grow together as a team. So overall, there’s lots of emphasis on continual learning and growth.
And of course, I like that my colleagues are friendly and respectful, with occasional sojourns into philosophical debates.
It’s wonderful that your tech careers are working out. As you know, women are still underrepresented in tech industries. Can you share some tips for women hoping to make the switch into tech roles?
Victoria: Have courage and believe in yourself! Take small, but concrete steps to help you get where you need to be. Try out some online courses to gauge your interest and if you find yourself really keen, perhaps a bootcamp would be a good stepping stone for you to enter the industry.
Lin Zi: Mid-career switches are never easy. You have to really want the switch and actively seek it out. The pull and push factors may differ for everyone, so be clear about what your factors are, as they will sustain you through the transition.
You don’t need to know everything before taking your first step as lifelong learning is a reality in tech. So go ahead and take the leap!https://www.tech.gov.sg/media/technews/international-womens-day-2023